Check Washing: Incidence, Methods, and Prevention Tips
Check washing is a growing concern in the world of financial fraud. As people continue to use checks for various transactions, the risk of check washing increases. In this blog post, we will explore the incidence of check washing, how it's done, and share practical tips on how to avoid falling victim to this type of fraud.
What is Check Washing?
Check washing is a technique used by criminals to alter a check that has been written and signed by the account holder. By removing or changing the payee name, amount, or other details, the fraudsters can cash the check for themselves or create counterfeit checks to use in other transactions.
Incidence of Check Washing
Although the exact number of check washing cases is difficult to determine, it is estimated that millions of dollars are lost every year due to this type of fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission, check washing accounts for a significant portion of the more than 27 million annual cases of identity theft and financial fraud in the United States.
How is Check Washing Done?
Criminals steal checks from mailboxes and USPS collection boxes. Some use keys stolen from mail carriers and some actually fish them out of collection boxes using a string attached to something sticky. Some thieves steal entire truckloads of mail.
Using chemicals like nail polish remover, the payee name and the amount are “washed” off the check. After it dries, a new name and amount can be added or the washed check can be sold to other criminals.
How to Avoid Check Washing
- Deposit mail in collection boxes as close to the indicated pickup time as possible — or bring it inside the post office for mailing.
- If you choose to leave outgoing mail in your mailbox, don’t put up the flag.
- Try not to leave incoming or outgoing mail sitting in your mailbox for an extended time, particularly overnight.
- Use security-enhanced checks: Many banks offer checks with security features designed to deter check washing, such as watermarks, heat-sensitive ink, or holograms. These checks make it more difficult for criminals to alter the information.
- Use a gel pen with pigmented ink: When writing checks, use a gel pen with pigmented ink, which is more resistant to washing than regular ballpoint pen ink.
- Sign up for Informed Delivery. With this free service, the USPS will email you images of everything that will be delivered to your home that day, so you’ll know what to expect (and what’s missing when the carrier drops off your mail). Some 44 million postal customers have signed up.
- Use the USPS Hold Mail service (you can sign up online) if you’ll be away from home, or have a neighbor collect your mail.
- Limit the use of checks: Consider using other payment methods, such as electronic transfers, credit cards, or mobile payment apps, to reduce the risk of check fraud.
- Store your checks securely: Keep your checkbook and any unused checks in a safe place, such as a locked drawer or a secure filing cabinet.
- Monitor your accounts: Regularly review your bank statements and look for any suspicious transactions or unauthorized check cashing. Notify your bank immediately if you suspect check fraud.
- Shred old checks: Destroy any old or canceled checks by shredding them to prevent criminals from obtaining your account information.
Check washing is a prevalent form of financial fraud that can lead to significant financial loss if not prevented. By understanding how check washing works and following the tips outlined above, you can protect yourself and your finances from this type of crime. Stay vigilant and proactive in safeguarding your financial information to minimize the risk of check washing and other forms of financial fraud